Which George Eliot Heroine Are You?
by Carrie Hill Wilner
Everyone needs a good pseudonym handy; you never know when you’ll accidentally write a novel. Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë wrote as Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell, a sisterly in-joke. Pearl Gray wrote Westerns as Zane Grey, because, Pearl. Charles Dickens sometimes wrote under Boz because he was Dickens and he could. Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady,” because she predicted this website. And Mary-Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot, because if people would take her more seriously with one dude’s name, how seriously would they take her with two?
So seriously. Too seriously. Virginia Woolf called Middlemarch “one of the few English novels written for grownups.” Are you scared? Don’t be. You can tell Virginia Woolf was lying because real grownups aren’t a thing. There’s plenty in George Eliot for vapid tramps like us. In fact, there’s so much, the real question is where’s a vapid tramp to begin? Why don’t we find out whether you’re more like heroine of Middlemarch — Dorothea — or the heroine of Daniel Deronda — Gwendolen (first question, would you rather be named Gwendolen or Dorothea?). That way, you can start with that book and it will feel like you’re just thinking about yourself like normal, but to everyone else, it will look like you’re Reading Literature.
The Hairpin’s First Official George Eliot Quiz
1. Solving problems
How do you do it?
(A) Possibly murder.
(B) Just normal waiting for people to die.
2. Bad Choices
Lacking insight into your own character, you end up in a terrible marriage. Which one?
(A) You are spirited and haughty. Also, you are very, very beautiful. You lead a charmed life until you lose all your money in a market crash. You marry into wealth and prestige in order to care for yourself and your mother, for whom you feel genuine love and devotion. Your husband’s interests include crushing your will, isolating you, and having secret families.
(B) You are cerebral, self-denying, and disciplined. Also, you are also very beautiful. You marry a serious older scholar, hoping to learn from him and help him complete his magnum opus. Surprise! His magnum opus is bad and dumb, and he doesn’t actually want you to talk or think. His interests include being old and spindly like Mr. Burns and refusing to teach you Greek.
3. The Boy
You listened to Mindy Kaling and married The Man, and now his doughy, mortgage-paying hands make your flesh crawl. You have imprisoned your desire, but from her cage she shrieks his name: The Boy! Let her caress his stupid floppy rocker hair but once! Who is he?
(A) A solemn but smoldering idealist whom you initially detested, but by the time you come around to liking him he has decided he’s really into being Jewish and isn’t dating outside The Faith. Also he met some girl when she was just about to drown herself, and even your crazy can’t compete with that for his rescuer complex, and also he’s moving to Russia, fuck you.
(B) A rudderless, hungry sort-of-painter: Being with him means abandoning your own work to follow him to. . . it’s not even that clear to you. But! Rufus Sewell plays him in the miniseries, and we all know Rufus Sewell grows up to be Tom Builder.
Which are your favorites?
(A) Riding and archery.
(B) Riding and feeling bad about it.
5. The Freakum Dress
You don’t meet Boys, Men, or twisted fates sitting around your manor in your jammies. What does your Best Dress look like?
(A) Green, shimmering, and serpentine, worn in a casino where you, head held high, bet your last dime rather than admit defeat. . . or poverty. (Except it’s the kind of poverty that happens in these books where people still somehow have like six houses.)
(B) Modest and dark, so that when you are inevitably spotted gazing out a window with the sun hitting you just so, all observers will be struck by how its simple, simple simplicity, so simple only enhances your saintly beauty. Not that you go around looking for sunbeams to practice standing in or anything.
Life is long. What do you think about when you’re not thinking about boys or gowns?
(A) Proto-Zionism, speculation, the civil war, opera singers, illegitimacy, gambling.
(B) Germ theory, folksy wisdom, The Reform Act, urban planning.
“I’m so iced out/I can’t talk to strangers,” Gucci Mane tells us. How do you alienate people using shiny things?
(A) By wearing as penance pieces that whisper to you of abandonment and sadism and rage, that crush your youth and hopes beneath their weight. Also, by using bracelets to try to telegraph desperate secret messages to your just-a-friend and thinking you are subtle, but then everyone is like why are you waving your arm around spastically so much? You are being weeeiiiird.
(B) By undermining your jewel-happy sister about how you really wouldn’t normally do something so frivolous before putting on a single, gleamingly awesome ring and sighing and looking dope.
So what kind of vapid tramp ARE YOU after all?
Mostly As? Gwendolen Grandcourt nee Harleth, from Daniel Deronda.
Favorite Snack: Hearts of Man.
Pet Peeve: Scary paintings in boxes.
Theme Song: On A Boat.
Mostly Bs? Dorothea Causabon nee Brooke from Middlemarch.
Favorite Snack: Water, but really.
Pet Peeve: Injustice.
Theme Song: This Old Man.
Previously: Mean Ladies to Read About.
Carrie Hill Wilner is a Gwendolen, barely.